Ross McEwan, RBS chief, said lenders should be “thinking about [the safety of our bank] before any regulator asks”
Royal Bank of Scotland has told Mark Carney that lenders should make decisions about mortgage policy, on the eve of the Bank of England introducing new rules intended to cool the housing market.
Ross McEwan, chief executive of the taxpayer-backed lender, said: “We should be thinking about [the safety of our bank] before any regulator asks.”
Mr Carney, the Bank’s Governor, is on Thursday expected to announce new measures clamping down on risky home loans at the biannual Financial Stability Review.
The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC) has the power to introduce measures such as a cap on the value of mortgages as a multiple of incomes or compared with house values, and could take other measures such as stricter affordability tests for borrowers.
House prices have risen 9.9pc in the past year, and Mr Carney has called the housing market the biggest threat to the economic recovery. Sir Jon Cunliffe, his deputy Governor for financial stability, referred to the sector as the “brightest” of the warning lights the Bank looks at.
When asked about potential new measures at RBS’s annual general meeting, Mr McEwan suggested that banks could be trusted to control their own mortgage lending. “We don’t think there’s a big problem out there, our preference is we make the move,” he said. “We are not going to do that [put ourselves at risk], we should be thinking about that before any regulator asks.”
His comments came the day after the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) cautioned against the FPC introducing drastic measures, saying today’s review “comes against a backdrop where the housing market is itself showing signs of moderating”. Data from the BBA released this week showed that mortgage approvals have fallen for four successive months, which it said suggested the new tests introduced by the Mortgage Market Review were working.
RBS and Lloyds, 80pc and 25pc owned by the taxpayer respectively after their 2008 bailouts, have both introduced their own loan-to-income caps on high-value mortgages.
Mr McEwan’s comments came after the bank’s shareholders almost unanimously backed its pay policies, in contrast to many other banking groups’ AGMs this year.
Speaking to shareholders in Edinburgh, three months before the Scottish people decide whether to remain part of the UK, RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton admitted the debate is generating a “great deal of uncertainty” but refused to take sides on the matter.
“We are not taking one side or the other, and we will continue to maintain that neutral position,” Sir Philip said. He insisted that in the event of a “yes” vote in September, the bank – which employs 12,000 people in Scotland and has been based in Edinburgh since its foundation in the 18th century – would have time to make a decision.
“If there is a Yes vote there would be a period of time between the referendum and Scotland actually becoming independent when the UK and Scottish governments would enter negotiations,” he said.
Sir Philip added that a programme of branch closures would “inevitably” continue as consumers switch to using internet and mobile phone banking, saying that branch transactions had fallen by 30pc since 2011. He promised that RBS would maintain a significant branch network with “more branches than Asda and Sainsbury’s stores combined”.
Just 0.34pc of votes at the meeting were cast against the bank’s remuneration policy at the meeting. RBS had been forced to drop proposals that would have allowed it to pay bonuses equivalent to 200pc of salaries when the Treasury said it would not back the proposals, and Sir Philip defended the bank using controversial “share allowances”, seen by critics as a way for banks to circumvent an EU bonus cap.
“The more challenged the bank, the more you need the top talent, because you have the day job of running a bank and sorting out the legacy problems,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to get top people to do top demands if they’re paid significantly less than the market.”